Big Eyes – 2014

Director Tim Burton
Starring Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Jon Polito, Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp, Delaney Raye, Madeleine Arthur
Screenplay Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski

 The more you lie, the smaller you seem.

Slogging through Tim Burton films has felt like work ever since the first time I watched Edward Scissorhands. Riding the wave of the success of Batman without succumbing to the criticism of the movie’s weaknesses (which have only become more prevalent with time), Burton was given the gift of Johnny Depp’s overly expressive eyes near the beginning of his meteoric rise in fame. He didn’t waste it. The key for him then, as it had been for most of his career since has always been in casting the quirky, not quite accepted teen girl with whom every girl in the audience could identify. The swooning for the damaged heroes seemed much more natural in that time. The chore came in viewing the story as a quirky, not quite accepted young man. It all felt like so much manipulation of a slight talent into big sales.

This time around, the not quite accepted girl is a divorced woman, Margaret (Adams), who tries to get some recognition for her adorable talents as a painter of young children with big eyes. The journey to her self-discovery is delayed by her marriage to Walter Keane (Waltz). His success in selling her artwork as his own for increasingly larger amounts of money puts her in the position of supporting his lies through the labor of her art. The reason behind this subterfuge is her lack of belief in her ability to support herself and her daughter and his unwillingness to tell the truth. And lets not forget the large amounts of money that the cycle created for everyone in the process.

Adams plays her character straight enough. The problem is, she feels less like a character and more like a caricature. The typical Burton lens brings her eyes into focus with such an intensity, we are almost forced into feeling an intense sadness for her. This process is repeated often until she moves on from her second husband and falls under the sway of Jehovah’s Witnesses and her now teenaged daughter. Then we are given little moments of victory, almost as sweetly displayed as her paintings.

Waltz is firmly entrenched in his comfortable categorization of a nearly unhinged man with little morality beyond his own desires. Its a performance we are accustomed to from him at this point, even if it is still somewhat effective.

Burton is less Burtony in this film, in that there are less things crawling to and fro and pledging their undying support for a reluctant heroine in waiting. Still, it feels like his work all the way. This is not a blessing for this reviewer, but it really isn’t a detraction. For this viewer, the cuter the story got, the more the realization dawns that it was really a lie of convenience for everyone involved, no matter how big a burden it became. Burton wants to make us feel the anchor, but he also wants us to feel like Margaret did nothing wrong. It would have been stronger if they’d had the courage to make her own her faults as well as her gifts. That this never does push her to that realization makes Big Eyes a nice film that really doesn’t go as far as the material could have allowed. We will never see that story, so we can sleep warmly as this version disappears from our mind.

(*** out of *****)

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